A UK-based consortium is to investigate the use of ultra-low-cost NFC technology to give individual items of reusable plastic packaging a unique digital identity (UDI) in order to track them across each package’s lifecycle, encourage their reuse and enable the development of a scalable packaging-as-a-service infrastructure.
The digital identification technology will use NFC to allow manufacturers and suppliers to track individual items along the supply chain and enable consumers to collect rewards for returning plastic packages for reuse.
The technology is being developed as part of an initiative known as TRACE (technology-enabled reusable assets for a circular economy) and is one of 18 demonstrator and research and development projects to receive funding in the latest round of UK Research and Innovation’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge.
The consortium includes the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, Ken Mills Engineering, Recoup and Topolytics and is led by UK-based flexible electronics provider PragmatIC.
“Reusable models present a significant opportunity to reduce waste and its impact on the environment,” PragmatIC says.
“The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has estimated that at least 20% of single-use plastic packaging could be replaced with a reusable alternative and converting to reuse models could be a US$10bn business opportunity.
“By taking a systematic view of reusable packaging, TRACE will develop new digital innovations across the complete cycle of recapture, sorting, cleaning and back-to-use of these assets, enabling new models for packaging-as-a-service.
“The UDIs will be used throughout the lifecycle of the packages: firstly, by all the actors in the supply chain to track each item and provide detailed data that will demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits; and secondly, by the consumer to access their deposits or rewards, thereby building enduring relationships with brands and retailers.”
A UK-based project to use NFC labels to boost consumer recycling of plastic bottles and other recyclable packaging was unveiled in April 2021, and restaurants in the Canadian city of Toronto are trialling a meal ordering app that tracks reusable food containers using NFC.